Afterthoughts: And, in Conclusion

That last paragraph is always the tricky part.

Photo: Linny Morris

When I was in fifth grade, Mrs. Short taught us how to write the classic five-paragraph essay. Introduction, three body paragraphs and a conclusion. In the pudgy, inexperienced hands of literal-minded 9-year-old writers, our essays would all dutifully end with “And in conclusion ….” Norman Mailer, we were not.

Still, fifth grade was the year I heard my calling: I wanted to be a writer when I grew up. Almost immediately, I squelched the idea. I figured there were only a few ways to make a living as a writer—there were the people who did Hallmark cards, people who penned jokes for Reader’s Digest and poets—and they all seemed to be starving wretches. I set my sights on dentistry.

After I determined teeth were boring, I pursued a career of teaching, figuring I could write during the summers off. In high school, I volunteered in Mrs. Short’s class as a teacher’s aid. I even went through two years at a state university specializing in education degrees. I was 20 years old, about to start classroom practicum, sitting on my living room floor earnestly snipping paper cutouts of apples for a bulletin board, when I had an epiphany: I don’t like children!

Illustration: Jing Jing Tsong

Oh, I like individual children. I certainly love my own. But I don’t adore children, the way people who work with them full-time must. I didn’t want to cut out bulletin-board apples. I wanted to write. 

I’ve been making a living off words for 17 years now, with nary a Reader’s Digest assignment. I hope you’ll still see my byline around, emanating from Los Angeles, where my family is relocating.

This column, Afterthoughts, has belonged to me for six years. “Belonged” may be the wrong word. It’s like a sequined costume, one that requires inhabitation once a month with something wriggly and entertaining and, hopefully, on occasion, profound. The outfit has belonged to writers before me and now that I’m putting it back on the hanger, it will be slipped into by someone else. It’s stretchy. But I’ve deeply enjoyed taking care of it.

Of course, without you, this would not be a column, just a diary. You’ve been awfully gracious with me, laughing at my jokes once in a while, sighing in frustration when I type something dreadful. I’ve gotten some very nice feedback over the years, and, of course, my share of hate mail and calls from the mayor’s office.

Most writers don’t get to tackle nearly as many subjects as I’ve gotten to, from feral wallabies to can openers, tooth decay to a crumbling Natatorium. I once inspired the wrath of 14,000 angry coin collectors. Check out our archives at for the piece that triggered the response, and more.

It’s hard to know how to say goodbye to you, readers. So I’ll just do like Mrs. Short taught me. And, in conclusion, thank you.